Right On The Money – Sales flourish when online product data is accurate


Candice Phrogus is notRight on the Money intimidated when it’s time to update product information or change pricing on Alpi International’s robust website. Login. Enter password. Find product. Update product information. Save.

And done.

“In literally less than a minute I can go in and change things,” said Phrogus, who directs marketing and online product management at Oakland-based Alpi. “I don’t have to email anyone. I don’t have to call anyone. I can do it myself.”

Ah… if only Candice were really done. While that simple backend update made on the DistributorCentral product platform instantly updates product information on Alpi’s website, as well as in DistributorCentral’s centralized product research database, she still has other product search engines with whom to contend.

“It’s a challenge to update on every single platform,” said Phrogus. “Each seems to have a different format and you have to email in the information or call them up. Even then, it can take as long as 24 hours (for the data) to refresh.”

Technical, logistical and communicative difficulties associated with keeping online product data current have long plagued the promotional products industry. Until recently, some product data platform providers manually updated pricing using suppliers’ catalogs or written updates as the source. When placing orders, distributors were compelled to contact suppliers directly to confirm pricing and data were correct.

Bryan Lewis, President of LP Marketing, a Kansas City promotional products distributorship, said it’s frustrating when a customer locates a product and places an order through his website only to find the pricing was wrong after the customer placed the order.

“Distributors kind of get in the middle when pricing is wrong or the product has been discontinued but not removed,” Lewis said. “If the supplier won’t honor the pricing, then often we’re the ones taking the hit. If we’ve included discount pricing as part of our offer, the wrong pricing might cost us an additional five to 15 percent.”

Lewis said suppliers typically blame the service provider for not updating the information on the database. He knows, however, in the case of DistributorCentral, suppliers have the ability to update their own product data. It’s one of the reasons his team members at LP Marketing are “very proactive” at letting suppliers and DistributorCentral know when product information is wrong or outdated.

“We’ll quickly go in and locate that product on DistributorCentral and submit an inaccurate product information report,” Lewis said. “We appreciate what DC does to keep product information as updated as possible.”

According to Jason Nokes, President of DistributorCentral, suppliers do not take for granted getting alerts and feedback from distributors.”

“Suppliers love having feedback from distributors,” Nokes said. “It’s an example of suppliers and distributors working together to be successful. Where DC is concerned, every supplier can have a team of thousands of distributors working to help generate sales.”

Tim Parcher, president of Solid Dimensions, an Ohio-based manufacturer of environmentally friendly wood promotional products, acknowledges it can be “extremely complicated and time intensive” to make updates on some systems.

“The harder the job is, the greater the risk some things won’t be verified, some things will be misrepresented and errors will be made,” Parcher said. “We know the DC system best and can make updates instantly. Other databases can make it very difficult to keep products updated.”

Parcher said distributors’ primary issue remains accurate pricing. For that reason, Solid Dimensions strives to direct distributors to the company’s DC-hosted website and thus bypass the possibility of working with bad data.

“Everyone has their verified pricing system, but that’s part of the glitch,” Parcher said. “Verification’ doesn’t dive down deep enough to cover such things as options and features and discount codes.”

At DC, Nokes said suppliers can do much to help distributors by coming to terms with the realization their product information ultimately goes to the end user.

“Distributors prefer presenting consumer-friendly product data,” said Nokes. “Suppliers can benefit everyone’s cause by submitting product information suited for consumers and businesses.”

Nokes said distributors as a whole are increasingly asking for freight costs when securing quotes or, at the very least, when an order is placed. It’s an expectation in line with technological advances in making online purchases.

“Look at any successful e-commerce business and you’ll see all options being made available to the buyer, including pricing, shipping, materials, size and more,” Nokes said. “Other data platforms in the industry haven’t got to the point where they can handle it all. They’re still leaving much up to distributors to complete the orders.”

According to Nokes, “cultural differences” exist among the primary promotional product database providers. He said the primary example is data is free and accessible on DistributorCentral. Nokes said the idea of requiring suppliers to pay to have their product information made available and then also charging distributors to access product data is out of sync in the competitive world of e-commerce.

“DistributorCentral’s position is the product data belongs to the suppliers and our job is to get it where distributors and buyers can have open and total access to that information,” Nokes said. “We request suppliers to take responsibility for keeping their information accurate on DC for the benefit of the buyers. We’re happy to forward that accurate data – in whatever format is needed – to other platforms and websites. Why would we not?”

Solid Dimensions’ Tim Parcher said the industry has matured to a point it’s more about being competitive within the marketplace.  He said promotional products remain the best bang for the buck and one way to remain competitive is to have an accurate, up-to-date pricing structure.

“Gone is the system the industry used 20 years ago when products, pricing and catalogs were introduced on January 1 and were there until December 31,” Parcher said. “That’s not reality.”

Parcher said both distributors and suppliers understand the dynamics of continuous pricing and the need to change product information and options on an ongoing basis. He said a variety of ever-changing factors ranging from import costs to regulations to shipping can have an immediate impact on cost and product data.

“The gallon of milk you by in August isn’t going to cost the same as it did in February,” Parcher said. “We’re not working on annual fixed prices anymore.”

At Apli International, which features a variety of promotional products with an emphasis on stress relievers and unique pens, pricing stays static throughout the year but information about product information requires updates on a weekly basis.

“It’s not uncommon for the print shop to call and say a certain item can handle a bigger logo or there’s room for a second imprint,” said Phrogus. “It’s helpful that I can make changes very quickly in the DC system. I also like that DC is web based as opposed to desktop based, so I can make changes on the phone if I want. That’s cool.”